Who you gonna call?
Editor’s note: I wrote this story several years ago, but seeing as how Jefferson has been transformed in recent weeks into one giant bat colony, an encore presentation seems fitting ...
Patrol officers in Jefferson are armed with Glock Gen4 pistols and Tasers.
An AR-15 is never far away if things go really south.
But this time of year, officers in Jefferson never feel more protected than when they’re swinging a tennis racket.
That would be the standard-issue tennis racket that’s kept in the duty vehicle for those late nights when a resident frantically calls to report an intruder — of the hairy winged variety.
“This is bat season,” Police Chief Mark Clouse said. “We are in prime time.”
The free removal of bats is a service that continues to separate small-town cops from their big-city colleagues, and not only are we all better for it — c’mon, it’s a mouse, that flies — the police are better for it, too.
“It gives us some real positive contact with the community,” Clouse explained. “You take a bat out of someone’s house, you’re a hero.”
And don’t kid yourself — these aren’t just little old ladies we’re talking about.
“I’ve removed bats for females and for 350-pound males,” Clouse said.
“A lot of people just don’t want to deal with them.”
Local police typically find themselves responding to a spate of bat calls for a two-week period in the spring and then again this time of year, according to Clouse, who started as a full-time patrol officer in 2003.
“I used to not care for bats,” he confessed. “Then when I got into this job, I was kind of forced to respect them.”
Again, it’s like a mouse. That flies.
Really, if you think about it, the only other comparative animal is the mythological griffin, with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle.
And if you happen to have one of those flapping around your bedroom, call the sheriff’s office instead.
“For myself,” Clouse said, “I can handle a bat if it’s sitting there because it looks like a mouse. Once those wings come out, it’s something about the shape and texture of them I don’t care for.”
Iowa is home to eight species of bats, according to Iowa State University Extension, including something called the hoary bat, which boasts a wingspan up to 16 inches (one of the largest in North America).
Fortunately, only two species use buildings for colonies, and glory be to Dracula, neither is the hoary bat.
The little brown bat and big brown bat are the species most likely to inspire frantic calls to police from homeowners.
The former can live as long as 31 years. The latter has a wingspan up to 13.78 inches.
Bats can squeeze into a dwelling through a hole the size of a dime, Clouse said. It also goes without saying that bats have the potential to transmit rabies.
“A bat probably eats its own body weight in mosquitoes a day,” Clouse said. “It’s a good species to have around.”
Outside. That is, it’s good to have around outside.
“We do our best to catch them alive and turn them loose outside,” Clouse said.
Bats are actually protected outdoors by law, according to Clouse. But once they get inside your house, all bets are off — they can then be considered a nuisance.
Officers wear heavy leather gloves, Clouse said, when they’re on bat-duty.
Sometimes, though, just like a drunk guy on a Saturday night, if a bat refuses to obey an officer’s commands, police have no other choice but to start swinging the tennis racket.
In Jefferson, police have removed bats from dwellings for as long as anybody can remember, Clouse said.
“It’s a feel-good service we offer,” he said.
Under state law, police can’t compete with a for-profit business, which is why Jefferson police no longer unlock car doors, Clouse said.
Until the day a pest removal business comes to town, police will keep right on removing bats.
And some officers want that day to come sooner rather than later.
“I won’t give you a name,” Clouse said, “but there’s a gentleman here who would probably rather catch a rhinoceros than a bat.”